Price: £95 plus VAT
Company: Auto FX
After the very well received original DreamSuite collection of image-effects filters, Auto FX has produced a sequel set. DreamSuite Series 2 expands on some of the clever concepts of the original, and adds a number of new effects to play with. But, sequels don’t always live up to expectations. The package comprises a dozen effects which can be run from a standalone launcher or triggered from within an image-editing application as a Photoshop-compatible plug-in. Either way, users enter a proprietary, yet mostly intuitive, interface for manipulating the effects with sliders and buttons – while still being able to rescale, tweak and drag around elements in the artwork itself. A handy additional feature is the ability to save what you’re doing at any time to one of a number of memory dots, so returning to a previous stage or comparing two versions is just a single-click action. Users can also save customized effects as Presets for applying to other images in the future. The most compelling effects are 2.25 Frame, 4x5 Frame, FilmStrip and FilmFrame Art. These pick up from the original DreamSuite’s 35mm Frame effect, turning any digital image into what looks exactly like a film transparency at various sizes, complete with frame, sprocket holes and so on. You can even curl, wrinkle and tear the film, using multiple images or spread one image across several frames, cropping them however you want. With a little experimentation, you’ll achieve fantastic and highly convincing results. Digital photographers will love it. Also fairly interesting are the set of effects which give the impression an image has been cut up into pieces. Tile looks like a loose arrangement of overlapping photo cards, PhotoStrips looks like someone has sliced a photo print with a scalpel and jumbled them, and Puzzle Pieces turns any image into a jigsaw, even letting the user displace the individual pieces. The least impressive is Mesh, which makes images look like woven straw mats. Other borderline effects include FilmGrain for adding grain noise in ways that aren’t as clever as expected, and PhotoPress for zoom-blurring background areas in a picture. The worst were PlasticWrap and Wrinkle, neither of which convince. Three functionality issues with the software as a whole were a source of irritation. First, performance is slow, with each preview refresh of hi-res artwork being tortuously drawn-out – and this was on a Power Mac G4 866MHz with 512MB of RAM. Second, the effects are restricted to the canvas size of your initial image, so if you begin with a small picture you will end up with an even smaller result. Your best bet is to always start with a large blank canvas from Photoshop, and then bring images in afterwards, putting up with the inevitable sluggish performance. Third, the effects only work with one image layer (you may have to flatten your artwork), and seem to have trouble with alpha channels in TIFFs. Despite all that, DreamSuite Series 2 is still an almost must-have collection simply for the film frame effects, which are just brilliant. Apart from these great special effects, the rest of the collection is less interesting and occasionally irrelevant. As sequels go, this is more Back to the Future II than Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.